Shiny side down

Eighteen years ago, we adopted our firstborn. All these years later, we are grateful still. For him. For the woman who placed him in our care. For the channel that brought him to us when we couldn’t have a child on our own. It was as conventional an adoption as it could have been We took him home on Day 3 of his life. There was no reversal in decision on either side. No hang-ups or glitches at the hospital or with the official paperwork. But even the most conventional adoptions are never truly conventional. There are so many layers. Even now. Especially now.

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The Typing Teacher

There are a few people to whom I owe gratitude every time I finish any piece of writing that’s longer than a sentence fragment. I always thank God for sewing words into me. For making me love the way a sentence sounds as it leaves the pages of the books I read. I thank my parents for encouraging me. And my tribe for caring, even if at times they are only pretending. And for my friends who fail at life with me or pay me to wear snorkels or try to kill me on sailboats. And for my children who mortified me in Sam’s Club by creating a manmade Lake of Pee that essentially shut down our entire checkout line during the holiday season.

So many people are behind every word I write.

But the thing is, I don’t write. I type. And while my fingers are hovering over the keyboard of my laptop, there is a conspiracy that often happens without my consent. It is as if one part of my brain is whirring and whipping up a paragraph with my typing fingers while another part of my brain simply observes the process like a captive audience. I’ve heard the expression among other nerdy writers (we are all nerds), “Did I write that story or did it write me?”

That’s at least a little truthful. And when I don’t have access to my laptop and my fingers cannot hover over that keyboard, I struggle to get the words out as quickly as they are forming in my head.

There’s at least one more person that I owe, and owe big, when I get to cranking on something. She is a person I not only never thanked, but she’s a person I pretty much treated like cat vomit.

My 10th grade typing teacher, Mrs. Bonds.

Mrs. Bonds was a commanding figure in front of a class. She was as wide as she was tall and carried with her the whoosh of panty hose when she walked the aisle of typewriters to give us instruction we did not want.  She scooted down the aisles sideways, because she couldn’t make the squeeze walking forward, and bumped the backs of our heads with her hind section as she passed by. She smelled like convalescence and loved typewriters. She loved them.

At the beginning of each class, she stood in front of the room as we sat at our typewriters, and announced what the lesson would be that day. For the first few weeks, we worked on a different key every day. F-J day taught us to center our hands over the keyboard with our index fingers resting comfortably on the raised lines of those keys. Our index fingers were to always come home to the F-J headquarters. Learning to type q and p was awkward, because we had to try and harness the power from some other finger and somehow transfer it to our pinkies.

But the day and the lesson that I remember most from typing was E-D Space day. The E and the D required our middle fingers. The way Mrs. Bonds chose to teach this particular lesson brought together the elements of a perfect storm when it came to a room full of morally underdeveloped teenagers.  She could have held her hands out over a phantom typewriter and shown us the proper way to type E-D. Or she could have held her hands high, palms facing the classroom, showing the movement of the middle finger as it typed the E and the D. But she didn’t do any of that. She held her fleshy hands, backs facing us, with all her other fingers tucked away nicely and the middle finger stretched high in all its glory. Then she waved those middle fingers at us rather enthusiastically as she chanted, “E-D-space, E-D-space…do it with me now. E-D-space.”

Oh, man.

Clearly, I’m a dunderhead even 30 years later, because the memory of this still makes me laugh. The classroom arrangement placed us in rows that faced each other and were perpendicular to her. On E-D-Space Day, all I had to do was raise my eyes a degree to lock eyes with my friend, Amy, directly across from me. And once I locked eyes with her, it was over. Thirty other students found themselves in the same situation, trying to laugh quietly as a typing instructor flipped them off for a solid 45 minutes and then wondered what could possibly be so funny about E and D.

I’m sorry, Mrs. Bonds.
Truly.

One afternoon in the spring of 1987, I received the bright idea to drive off campus for lunch. Alone. I was 16 and drove myself to school. Driving was legal. Leaving campus for lunch as a sophomore was not. That was a privilege reserved for the upperclassmen. But I was only going to be gone for a few minutes. I had given it a long second of hard thought and couldn’t see the harm in it. I wish I could remember where I was going for food. There were Chinese restaurants and fast food chains up and down Tennessee street. I don’t remember which one was on my mind that day, because I never made it there. As I was creeping along in lunch hour traffic, I looked over my right shoulder to change lanes. In that instant, the guy in front of me slammed on his brakes. My reflexes were a tad slower, and I braked by running my dad’s roll bar on his Jeep CJ-5 into the stopped guy’s tailgate.

I waited for his E-D-space when he climbed out of the truck, but he was nicer than that. He did bury both hands in his head full of brown accountant hair and lament what I had done to his tailgate. I had only tapped it. But roll bars don’t tap lightly.  

After apologizing profusely, I ran across the street to Bullwinkle’s bar to use the pay phone. My dad arrived a few minutes later. When my Dad got out of his car and walked to the accident scene, he extended his hand to the man I had hit.

“Hey, Dave,” he said, with a pained smile on his face.

“Hi, Mike,” the man said back. I had hit my dad’s friend, and then came to find out that the man had just picked up his truck from the body shop not 10 minutes before I crunched his back end. What are the odds?

After getting a ticket and a strong talking-to by a cop, I skulked back to campus for 6th period Typing. I was hungry and class was already in session. Because I was late. I crawled into the room on my hands and knees and tried to balance my weight to keep my backpack from falling to one side or the other. Then I slid my backpack under the desk, pulled the chair out and attempted to shapeshift my way into it. My head popped up, across from my friend, who glanced at me with confusion as she continued typing.

She pulled what she had been working on out of the typewriter wheel and slid it across the table. There were a slew of double quotes and colons on the page followed by the phrase, “where were you?”

I rolled a blank sheet of paper into my typewriter and typed back, “Snuck off campus for lunch. Rear ended a guy my dad knows. Police came. Hungry.” Then I threw some colons and double quotes in for practice and slid the paper across to her.

She took my paper, shaking her head as she read it, and rolled it into her typewriter. Then she typed a few more words before passing it back across. 

“Idiot.”

I couldn’t argue with that, so I rolled a new sheet of paper into my machine and began practice my punctuation. I was supposed to do everything without looking at my hands. That was the whole point of hitting the E and the D and the space over and over and over again. It was supposed to become automatic. But it didn’t for me. Because I was skipping class and laughing at the teacher and having a pretty good time with my table mate.

Three and a half years later, while being forced to answer phones and do clerical work at my dad’s real estate office, I sat down at a typewriter and rolled a fresh piece of paper into the machine. There was no one waving her hands at me and chanting. There was no one across the table making me laugh. It was just me and the typewriter and an afternoon full of nothingness.

And I began to type.

F-J-space, F-J-space.
E-D-space. E-D-space.
And then I began typing up fake For Sale ads, with glorious descriptions of bedrooms and amenities and fictional scenarios about people who had died in the home. Houses with rotting corpses sold cheaper. I always practiced with my eyes closed. And by the end of that summer, I had become rather proficient.

I have no idea what happened to Mrs. Bonds. I only had her for a semester and we were never close. But she taught me to type and she taught me well. And because of her, my words flow more easily. When I wake up in the dead of night with a sentence or a thought that will not go away, I try to plunk it out on my phone or jot it down somewhere, but it’s never the same as positioning my index fingers over F and J and waiting for something magic to happen.

To Mrs. Bonds, I want to say I’m sorry for being a snickering pain in your swishing pantyhose. And I want to say thank you for burning into my brain a skill that became the foundation for the words I love so much. And I want to say one final thing: All those times you stood up in front of the class waving fingers at us wildly, we laughed because we thought you didn’t know what you were doing. We laughed because we thought we knew something you didn’t. But now I think maybe you knew exactly what you were doing and somewhere you’re having the last laugh on us.

And I’m going to type The End just for the E and D of it.

The End.

Give my Regards

I spent the last 4 ½ days in New York City, my very favorite city on earth. Even now, I am looking out of my hotel room at the city sights below. I hardly missed my dog. That’s how much I enjoy this city. In previous visits, I have embraced looking like a tourist. Stopping in the middle of 42nd street to take a picture of the jumbo screens in Times Square. Going to Macy’s and buying something just to say I did. But the more I go there, the more I want to blend. This trip, I started out getting accosted by the Hop On/Hop Off bus guys a lot and ended the trip with them not realizing they should accost me. That was a win. This post won’t change anyone’s life, but here are the things I learned in New York City this week. If you find yourself int the city that never sleeps .

Get up early and book an early bird tour of the 9/11 museum. If you go when everyone else is there, you won’t have a clear shot of 3/4 of the artifacts and you’ll struggle to hear the tour guide. This tour was one of the most moving things I’ve ever done. I probably only saw half of what was available, but after 2 hours of reading, listening, and watching, I was at my capacity for digesting the events of that day. Very moving. I’ll do it again next chance I get.

See Hamilton. Hamilton is everything people have said it was. I went in knowing very little about Alexander Hamilton and knowing none of the music and I came out a massive fan. I would have sat through it twice in a row, despite the fact that I was twisted into a pretzel-like position in a seat half the size of my middle-aged body.

Don’t stare too long or get too close. Naked Cowboy is old. I haven’t seen him in person in almost a decade. Though he’s tried to work out so that he doesn’t take on the title of Fat, Naked Cowboy, the years haven’t been good to the lines on his face.

Never make eye contact with anyone wearing a costume. The people in costumes in Times Square are obnoxious and deserve to get punched. I sat and ate an Egg McMuffin in Times Square yesterday morning and watched the process for a solid 30 minutes. They prey on older, single Japanese men. They prey on slow walkers. They prey on anyone who seems to stagger step for more than a second. If you make eye contact with them, they are on you like a bad germ. They force you to hand over your phone to take the picture you didn’t want. Then they attempt to get a $10 or more out of you. I watched the strategies. I watched the money being split up after. People are stupid and Minnie Mouse was a troll.

45% humidity is a dream come true in September.

Never miss an opportunity to go to Washington Square Park. There is always something worth seeing. Yesterday, we had a 2 hour window with nothing in it and took the subway there. We people watched for awhile and were going to stroll the surrounding Greenwich Village streets when I spotted a puppet that I recognized. It was a hippie sitting at a tin can drum set that I had seen on YouTube playing Rush songs. I grabbed Todd’s arm and asked him if it was what I thought it was.

Sure enough. It was Ricky Syers and his puppet entourage, sitting against the fence line in Washington Square.

“Should we go over? Maybe we should just move on,” I said. I waffled back and forth for a minute, because we had been on our way out of the park. We were on a mission. After wavering for 3 or 4 minutes, we walked over to meet Ricky Syers. One of the things I’ve learned as I get older is that you should always seize an opportunity if it’s in front of you. Don’t regret what you did not do. We dropped some money in Ricky’s hat and he thanked us and shook our hands. Then he proceeded to perform the life out of a Rush song I’d never heard before. It turns out that he’s far better known as a maker of puppets and the puppeteer than he is as a musician. He had puppets for the people he performs with in the park. He made a tiny grand piano and a puppet that looks identical to the man playing the grand piano 25 feet away. Stepping into his space in the park was to step into a world completely foreign to me. I wish it had occurred to me to ask how the piano got there and how and when it leaves. It is a full sized grand piano, not a baby grand. You don’t roll one of those babies into the park day in, day out. And you don’t leave it to sit out in the elements. I lost sleep over that last night.

Pot smells like skunk. Pot is everywhere in New York City. I am 48 years old and never knew what marijuana smelled like until 3 weeks ago. My 13 year old daughter pointed it out at a high school football game and now I’m a pro. I smell it everywhere. And in New York, I got a lot of practice. It smells like the distant, pungent aroma of skunk spray. I decided not to try it. Maybe next time.

Real estate in the city is expensive.
But a girl can still dream. Send money. For now, I’m going home.

Chopsy

Stories and Interventions

**Though written in present tense, NONE of this post was written while driving my car. I write in my head. And then I spend an inordinate amount of time in a car line typing out what was in my head.**

I am driving–following clouds that are gray and swollen with a threat they likely won’t deliver. I’m okay with that, because it has only rained for the last 7 days. The ground and my attitude have had enough for now. I am in the car again. I spend a lot of time in the car lately and haven’t handled it with as much grace as I would like. If your kids are having to talk you down from road rage, you might need to choose another path. Mom, please. Chill. Mom, what good does it do to talk to all these drivers? Mom, please don’t say anything to that person? Mom, no.

I may have a bit of a problem. The last time I remember feeling this uptight in the car, I was 34. To fight the urge to punch people, I memorized Romans 12 and recited it to myself when I was frustrated. I learned to bless people who cursed me. I liberally assigned pulling out in front of me or ripping past 42 cars (one of which was me) going 60 miles per hour so you can “merge” in front of them as a person “cursing me.” It’s a loose interpretation, but it helped me off the ledge. People turn into feral dogs when it comes to merging in a construction zone. Goodness.

So I’m playing a lot of Jim Brickman and rememorizing Romans 12. And with the time I sit in the car waiting for kids, I read, write, and conduct business.

I see a lot of people as I drive and I am always paying attention. I see the world in pictures. Behind every picture is a story as complicated as mine. From a stoplight, I can see a man hunched over on a bench. He waits for the bus, with his elbows against his knees. He holds up a world of trouble by just his thumbs, as he leans against them with his eyes closed. Did he not sleep last night? Is he praying? I turn right as I pass him and I drive away from his story, whatever it happens to be.

There are stories everywhere.
In the strange house that has been added to, piece by piece, until it looks like an apartment from 1963 and the Winchester house had a baby on the banks of the Hillsborough River.
In the rotted-out van parked out front of a house advertising computer sales and repair.
In the bus driver that is pacing the sidewalk in front of her bus as she waits for the kids to load.
In the man that jaywalks through traffic, wearing a loaded backpack, carrying a bag in one hand and an umbrella in the other. He has enough on his person to be homeless, but otherwise looks like an accountant.
In the eyes of the girl that scoops my daughter’s ice cream.

Everyone has a story. But sometimes I can’t see past my own to care about theirs. When I get mad at the inconsiderate mergers, I am mad because I think they put their story above mine. They merged their story in front of mine. When I bark orders in the middle school car line that no one but my exasperated daughters will hear, I am barking to make my story heard over theirs. But in that moment, as I grumble angrily inside my van, no one wants to hear my story over another’s. By griping and trying to get ahead, I’ve made my own story one that even I don’t want to read. And if I don’t want to read it, it’s a sure bet no one else will.

So on the 7th day of school, at the end of this day, I am forcing my own intervention. I am slowing down. I am breathing deeply, though I am not doing it when and how my smart-mouthed Apple watch suggests.  I am looking for the stories in others and attempting to read them with more mercy and grace.

And I am acknowledging that we are all unfinished stories. But everyone’s story will end at some point. And I’d like mine to end not in a fiery wreck or a local headline accompanied by jail time, but on a balcony in New York City with a pudding cup in my lap and the sounds of someone else’s road rage chiming like bells in the streets down below.

First Day Jitters

Every May, I find myself gasping for air as I dry-heave my way through a maze of paperwork, final exams, piles of clothing in which there could be a lost library book, and graduation requirements.

And I’m not the one in school.

School was always my thing, though. I was good at it. I wasn’t the smartest kid in class by any stretch. But I was a kid who had a knack for figuring out the requirements and meeting them. Now I’m navigating that territory as a parent. I think it would be far easier to just take the classes for them.

After my desperate sprint to the end-of-school finish line last May, we flopped down in our favorite spots and celebrated the onset of a well-deserved period of relaxation. Summer.

This particular summer flew away faster than any in recent memory. It was perforated with so many camps, trips, weekend events, etc, that the little blocks of time between seemed to vaporize before we could react.

Today, summer officially ended.

I mourned for about 15 minutes. And then I thought about the things I love that follow a new school year.

  • High school football on Friday nights with a kid on quads in the marching band.
  • College football on Saturdays.
  • Pro football on Sundays. (I really love football.)
  • Sub-88° temperatures.
  • Long shadows falling across the back yard as the days get shorter.
  • Being shoved ridiculously and aggressively into every holiday by retailers.
  • The holidays.

This year, I have kids in grades 6, 8, 10, and 12. It is only a transition year for the youngest. It is always a transition year for someone. When I found myself expecting my fourth child, my hairdresser spoke about my future with doom and disdain. Just wait, he told me. The boys will play baseball and the girls will be in cheerleading and you’ll have to divide and conquer. You and your husband will never be at the same event again. Ever.

I fired that guy. I couldn’t afford him anyway.

I got around the baseball thing by convincing the boys that our family wasn’t athletically gifted. I got around the cheerleading thing, because I hate cheerleading. The girls didn’t know it was a thing until it was far too late.

I haven’t figured out how to get around the back-to-school stress.

It’s easier with no one in elementary school. The supply lists are less of a problem. Instead of a list being the length of 3 CVS receipts, they are more like 6 or 8 items long. But the problem with the lists now is that I don’t get them until 2 days before school starts. That’s what led me to Walmart at 2 p.m. yesterday. The day before school started.

There were a lot of people at Walmart. Most of them were shopping for school supplies. I had already decided that I was not going to stress about anything I couldn’t find. I was not going to fight for a parking place. And I was not going to get mad. At anyone or about anything.

It actually went pretty well. At one point, I made eye contact with a boy who looked to be about Jenna’s age. He was on a cell phone and pushing a cart one-handed. There were a few spiral notebooks and a binder in his cart. I had a fleeting thought that he should hang up the phone and put two hands on his cart, but I forced the thought away and kept moving. As I was checking out an hour later, I saw that boy again. He was standing one cash register over, counting some money for the cashier to pay for the things I had seen in his cart. He had bought his own school supplies. I have no idea where his guardians were. Maybe it was someone sitting out in a car. Maybe a handicap person. Maybe a person who is rightfully terrified of Walmart the day before school starts back. All I know is that he stood there alone doing a job that could unravel the best of adults. And I wish him the best first day of school ever.

Toward the end of yesterday, I was on the phone with a friend checking in to see how her kids were handling the night-before stress. I had not finished my sentence that mine were handling it fine when a text came in from a child requesting permission to shave their arms. Since I was sitting in the driveway in my car, I texted back NO and ran inside to head off the beginnings of the first and only crisis.

“My arms are so bad,” she said. “They are so hairy.” She was crying. It might have been funny if it hadn’t been so pitiful.

“Your arms are perfectly normal,” I said. “And let me assure you of something: arm stubble is a heap worse than arm hair. Even if you looked like a yeti, which you don’t. You want a 5-o’clock shadow on your arms?”

We got through the crisis by pointing out that I survived middle school and my problems were far greater than a little arm hair. I had enough hair on my head to stuff a household of straw mattresses. It was like the nest of an osprey. My eyebrows were a burly affair and were competing for attention just north of my very large duck lips and a mouth full of braces. Honestly, I don’t know how I got through that. My mother sent Christmas card photos during those years.

“So, see?” I said to Jenna as she smiled and wiped her nose. “It could be so much worse. Compared to me, you got it going on.”

“Yeah,” she agreed. “You were pretty bad.”

For every parent and every kid out there starting school this week or soon, I hope it’s fantastic. It won’t be perfect. If your arms are a little hairier than you would like, be thankful you have arms. If your supplies are a little bulky in your backpack, be grateful you didn’t have to one-arm a cart through a maze of shoppers and pay for them yourself.

And if you look in the mirror on your way out the door one of these mornings and you don’t like what you see, I still got you beat.
And you’ll survive.
But I think we can all do a good deal better than that.

The Mundane and the Middle

There are plenty of mundane things in an otherwise exciting and fulfilling life like I consider mine to be. And these things may be mundane, but you still have to do them. I’d rather sustain a goose egg to the forehead than go back-to-school shopping. But the kids are going back to school. And they can’t go naked. So we shopped.

And speaking of goose eggs, about the time I got stupid and bought Vans, which are clearly designed for flat-footed 15-year-olds, my feet got old. Like Plantar Fasciitis old. Like compression sock/brace-wearing old. Ordering special insoles is mundane. But this week, I had to do it. Because I’m not going to stop running around Busch Gardens with my kids, even if it hurts to do it.

And speaking of Busch Gardens, we were on our way out the door on Monday night. Not to Busch Gardens, but to Skate Night. Skate Night is a thing where a whole bunch of nice nerds get together every Monday night from 7-10 and skate. Kids from 2 years to 20 years are out on the same rink. Some parents join in. I did on occasion until a 5 year old took me out (years ago) from behind. My behind was 4 weeks recovering from that. Now I just watch.

On Monday night we were leaving for Skate Night particularly early to meet some friends for dinner. I was having a little trouble with my right foot and had to think through my footwear a little more than usual. Because I’ve been purging every corner of the house, I don’t own very many shoes these days. I had two pair of Vans that were cute as buttons, but I gave those to my daughter. Because pain. So I’m down some shoes. And something made me throw on my old Crocs on my way out the door, because Crocs are back in. And I like to be in. Except for Vans. I was crossing the garage in my Crocs to get in the car when my 15-year-old who is too cool for school and many other places stopped in his tracks. And he gestured so that I would stop in my tracks also.

“Uh, you can’t wear those out,” he said, very politely and matter-of-factly.

“Why not?” I asked genuinely. “They’re back in.”

“Not those,” he answered. “Not for you.”

Ouch.
Ouch.

My self-esteem has taken quite a hit lately. I manage it okay. I embrace the nerd part of my personality that still relishes in the long-deceased authors of my youth. I know my kids’ friends like me enough to come around. I don’t care too much what they think about my outfit choices. But I’m not dead. I do care a little.

It’s the middle kids giving me trouble. They live together in the Middle. The conspire together in the Middle. They fight with each other in the Middle. And they come at me from the Middle. The Middle is a whole thing. I think it’s probably a hard thing in some ways. And I’d be tempted to feel sorry for them except that I don’t have time for that. I’m too busy dodging what they hurl at me from the Middle.

As I stood there in the garage, reluctantly accepting that the Crocs were a mistake for Skate Night, I had to come up with an alternative.

“Listen,” I responded. “It’s this or my Keens.” Clearly that wasn’t the right answer, because the female Middle said,

“What about your black flip flops?”

I have been trying to avoid flip flops this week.

“Those are up in my room and I don’t want to go back for them,” I answered. We were in a hurry. Tampa traffic was a nightmare on Monday.

“I’ll grab ’em for you,” my son said and dashed back in the house like he was being chased. I’ve never had a child run an errand for me with more speed or enthusiasm. He returned 40 seconds later with my flip flops. They aren’t the coolest things around, but apparently they are far and away better than my Crocs or my Keens.

“You know what? We gotta go shopping,” he said on the way to dinner. “For shoes.”

“What? You have so many shoes!”

“Not for me,” he clarified. “For you. I want to go with you.” I glanced at him in the passenger seat. This was not a favor to me, but because I think he believed it was, I went along with the conversation. “What are you looking for?”

“Cool and cute but super supportive. Maybe we could go to Rack Room this weekend.”

“No, no, no. You aren’t going to find cool and supportive at Rack Room.” At this point he began to search for shoes to show me. He found a subset of what he thought I might like as we pulled into the restaurant parking lot. “How ’bout these?” He asked. They were ok.

“How much?” I asked.

“$165.”

“A hundred and sixty-five dollars?!” I guffawed. “That’s a hard no. Those shoes would need to be made of precious metals or have a method of generating their own source of income for me to spend that.”

“What’s your limit then? $100?” he asked, refining his search.

“Probably. Even that makes me uncomfortable.”

At that point, we had to drop the conversation for the evening activities. Since then, I have run all over Busch Gardens in my Keens, worn my dirty light blue Nikes to church, and ordered a brace and some insoles. I still don’t have new sneakers and I’m still not traditionally cool. But on Tuesday night, a mere 24 hours past the unfortunate Crocs incident, when it came time to take a 200-foot nose dive from the front row of Sheikra, I was good enough and cool enough for that. And nobody cared what was on my feet when they were dangling from the track of an inverted roller coaster.

And speaking of inverted roller coasters, I’d rather be wearing red Crocs as the baby of the family than wearing Sperrys in the Middle.

And that’s about as mundane as it gets.

Small Things

Small things are cute. The smaller they are, the cuter they appear. There are plenty of unattractive adults that were adorable as babies. A slimy wriggly puppy, who will grow up into a smash-faced dog breed, is worth cooing over as a puppy. And a super fat baby thigh, enlarged and placed on an adult, aged 25-80, is the grossest thing ever. But we squish and croon about fat baby thighs.

As a kid, I was obsessed with small things. Tiny stuffed animals. Little action figures. And miniature 1970s wooden Christmas ornaments. When I was 8 years old, while decorating our Christmas tree, I found my best friend. It was a 2″ wooden angel, tossed into my mom’s collection of non-special ornaments. Because it was nothing special. To anyone else. But when I picked it up and made eye-contact with her black dots, she became special to me immediately.

“Can I keep this one?” I asked my mom. she agreed dismissively. Nobody cared that I was keeping her. I named her Baby. And she became my baby.

I carried Baby with me everywhere. Literally everywhere. To school. To church. On vacations. To my parents’ office. Down the street to play with my human friends. Everywhere. When she wasn’t in my hand or set up in some elaborate diorama, she was in the pocket of my jeans. There is one picture in some album somewhere that I took of Baby. It is only her right half, because I was shooting with a 110 point and shoot camera that is worse than drawing a picture with Crayons. I can’t locate the picture right now.

When the unfortunate fire of 1981 happened, we scrambled to pack our things and move out. Our insurance company sprung for a Howard Johnson’s in a bad section of town. My parents were not that excited about the hotel or our location in town; our new residence backed up to the parking lot of a honkytonk bar. I thought it was the most exciting place ever. All I had to do to enter a foreign world was to slide up in my bed ever so slightly and part the linen curtains behind my bed. The music went on all night.

One night, a couple of weeks into our stay at the HoJo, when I had seen enough and couldn’t seem to settle into sleep, I realized I didn’t have Baby. I looked for her in my covers and then in the drawers where I was keeping my clothes. She wasn’t there. In a panic, I called to my Dad.

“Dad,” I said. “I don’t have Baby.”

“It’s ok. We’ll find her in the morning,” he replied. Unlike me, he was settled in for the night. Now that I’m firmly entrenched in middle age and parenting, I get it. There’s nothing a parent wants to do less than to hike to the car for a forgotten item when you are already wearing your PJs.

“Dad, that won’t work,” I whispered across the dark hotel room. “I need her to sleep.” I paused. “And she needs me.” Now I was Grade A Crazy, but I didn’t care.

My dad swung his legs over the side of the bed and I sucked a breath of hope into my lungs. He was going to get Baby! But instead, I watched him fumble across the room to his stuff that was laying over a vinyl chair and reach into his pants pocket. Did he have Baby? He then found his way over to me and knelt beside my bed.

“Here,” he said. “Sleep with this.” I opened my hand hopefully and in it he placed a penny. A penny. Like a 1 cent dirty piece of copper. I closed my fingers over the penny as I narrowed my eyes in disgust and rolled over. The edges of the penny dug into my palm as I tried to pretend it was Baby. With my hand under my chin, I could smell the metal. This was not going to work.

“Dad,” I whispered again. “I can’t do this. I have to have Baby. Could you please go down to the car and get her?” I think people at the bar next door could hear him sigh as he stood up to face his mission. He threw on a pair of real pants and quietly slipped out of the room, along the outdoor corridor, and down the stairs to our car. A few minutes later, the door opened, letting a long shard of light into the room before it all went dark again. He padded over to my bed and placed the familiar shape of Baby into my palm. I smiled and hugged her to me and we sunk into a slumber on the faint notes of an Alabama lullaby that was drifting out from the doors of the bar behind me.

Within a couple of years, I lost Baby. I looked for her everywhere and was heartbroken when I couldn’t find her. I wondered what she was doing in her spare time. Was she missing me as much as I missed her? Had she found new friends? Would she ever show up again?

I never saw her after 1983, but there’s this lovely site called eBay, where a person who is a little off in the head can reconnect with their past in off-in-the-head kinds of ways. eBay is where I found the beach curtains of my childhood. And while it’s not where I found THE BABY, I did find A Baby. And I bought her. There is a familiar sweetness in her black dotted eyes and little round mouth that reminds me of a faithful friend I once had. A friend I like to imagine on a honkytonk stage somewhere, listening to our songs, and nestled into the palm of a kid who loves her.